Stay or Go: How to Evaluate a Relationship
Many people come to counseling for help making a decision about the fate of a particular relationship–usually involving one’s romantic partner or current employment. Inevitably, they have doubts about staying, for sure, along with similar doubts about leaving. They’re at an impasse, stuck, grappling with the vital question, “Should I stay or should I go?”
Because no one wants to make a decision they will later regret, it makes perfect sense to thoroughly evaluate a relationship before making a determination to scram. But what’s the most effective way to evaluate a relationship, so that you can know for certain you’re making a wise decision? I can answer this in a single word.
Seriously, don’t evaluate a relationship, at least not if you’re in it. This is the one approach that will absolutely, positively, 100% of the time, teach you exactly what you most want to know, namely, whether it makes better sense to stay or to go. Indeed, the only way to flawlessly evaluate a relationship is not to evaluate it. This may seem totally illogical, so let me explain.
First of all, no one evaluates something of which they know the value. Evaluation is something we perform when we’re not so sure, when we have doubts, when we’re unclear. By the time someone makes it into my office for counseling, they’ve probably been evaluating their relationship for a while now, getting no closer to the clarity they crave. Why haven’t their previous efforts at evaluation helped them reach a conclusion yet? It’s not because they’ve been evaluating incorrectly; it’s because the very act of evaluation itself complicates matters so profoundly. This is what I tell my clients:
You cannot evaluate and participate at the same time.
Imagine a quarterback trying to evaluate a play while trying to execute it or a dancer trying to judge a piece of choreography while performing it. If their attention is on evaluating, rather than participating, what would be the result? Something mediocre at best. Was it a good play or good choreography? Who knows?! It’s impossible to tell, because the thing being evaluated wasn’t given a fair chance to succeed. This is why evaluation doesn’t provide clarity. The evaluation itself creates an inferior version of the thing being evaluated and, whenever this happens, the outcome is bound to be both unimpressive and inconclusive.
It’s not like you are in a movie theater trying to evaluate if you like a certain film enough to keep watching it. You’re not a passive observer in this thing you are trying to evaluate. No, you have a huge say in the quality of what you are evaluating. This isn’t someone else’s film you’re watching; it’s yours. You are the director and cinematographer and lead actor, all wrapped into one. Want this film to be extraordinary? Then recognize what you can do to make it so and focus all of your attention and energies accordingly.
Instead of lingering in a place of uncertainty about a relationship—which undermines your experience and precludes you from any chance of finding satisfaction in it—commit. With utter confidence, dive into this relationship, intent on making it the very best it can be. Cultivate it. Invest your whole heart into this relationship, without reservations, without doubts, without the distraction that comes from evaluation.
Only when you are participating fully in a relationship can you be certain whether it is worth it for you to keep participating in it. Only by participating does the answer emerge. You’ll enter a place of certainty, knowing either that, “I gave it my all and discovered that this simply was not the relationship that I want for myself,” or “I gave it my all and was amazed at how fantastic this relationship became.” Either way, you achieve the clarity you desired, all without a moment’s evaluation.
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